How Young is “Too Young” to Diet?

I have always thought actress Ginnifer Goodwin was adorable … but I was a little surprised to find out she’d been on Weight Watchers since she was 9 years old — mostly because I didn’t realize you could join that young!

Apparently, according to this article at People.com, the media is up in arms about this admission she made, and so I thought I’d see what others think about it.

I like what she had to say and respect her honesty.

“I was so shocked when it was this whole, ‘Ginny’s been on a diet since she was 9 years old!’ I was like ‘No!’ I’ve never had body issues, I’ve never had an eating disorder,” she tells PEOPLE. “I’ve never had to go on a diet and that’s because of Weight Watchers.”

Goodwin, however, says she was an overweight child, which led her to the program. “I began to identify myself as fat.” Goodwin says. “At 9 years old I weighed about 10 lbs. less than what my weight is at 32. I needed to get help.”

“I ended up going to my mother crying,”she recalls. “With the counseling of my family doctor, my mother ended up turning to Weight Watchers and their children’s program. I went to weekly meetings, got counseling and would exercise with my peers who were my size. It was the first time I saw a proper children’s portion size, and it wasn’t two burgers, it was one.”

In the end, Goodwin credits her mother for her healthy approach to life. She looks back to the day when she told her mom she was fat. “Her reaction was not, ‘Oh, I’ll help you get skinny,” says Goodwin. “My mother’s reaction was, ‘Why don’t we all go and learn a little more about our health.”

I think all my readers know that I’m a huge Weight Watchers proponent, so naturally I support the program. When I joined in 2004, it taught me portion control and how to go out to eat and enjoy, in moderation.

While my disordered habits began AFTER losing the weight (and I did get a bit obsessive, to say the least, I don’t blame the program and, in fact, intend to rejoin WW again to lose the rest of the pregnancy weight. (I had to put my membership on hold during pregnancy, but never have stopped journaling in one way or another since 2004).

I know a lot of women have complicated relationships with their moms when it comes to weight … but I never experienced that.  In fact, my mom has always supported me and never criticized my weight or what I was putting in my mouth. Later in life when I expressed frustration with my body — when I was ready to tackle my weight — she was the person who inspired me to get healthier and join WW, which had given her great success the previous year.

Growing up, there was never any guilt, never any banishing of foods, or talk about “good vs bad” foods. We ate relatively healthy at home, enjoyed meals out, and if I reached for the third or fourth cookie after dinner, my mom might have said, “Lis, you had 2, do you need 3 or 4?” putting the decision in my hands. Nine times out of ten, that was enough to get me to see 2 HAD been enough, without any shame.

So I could very much relate to what Ginnfer says about how her mom helped her get healthier without ever making her feel bad about herself. That’s what a good mom does, in my opinion. It’s what I hope to do.

I’m the mom of a teensy tiny 22-day old, 6 lb 3 oz peanut right now … but someday Maya is going to grow up, experience puberty and all the physiological changes that come with it. Her body will change and she might go through a pudgy stage, an awkward stage, etc. We’ll of course love her all the same during that transitional time and support her, but it made me wonder … if she came to me, at 9 or 10 years of age, would I suggest Weight Watchers to her? And would I be a “bad mom” if I did?

Ginnifer seems to have zero resentment at all towards her mom and seems to be grateful that she had that early intervention.

Hopefully we won’t have to worry about any diet programs, period — hopefully she’ll grow up in a healthy home where food is enjoyed and exercise is a part of our family life … where she learns by example. My hope is that she won’t need to join any kind of program … but it doesn’t mean that some of the lessons learned from Weight Watchers couldn’t be applied — without the journaling,weighing, measuring that make the program so successful. Really, portion control and making good choices most of the time is the key to successful weight maintenance.

I don’t think Ginnifer’s mom was necessarily in the wrong — she was looking out for her daughter’s best interests and it seems to have worked; Ginnifer has had a grip on her weight ever since.  But ultimately, I think a healthy diet and regular exercise can begin at a very young age — like now. As parents, we are wholly responsible for our children’s nutrition and fitness/activity levels — they aren’t making these decisions on their own for a good while. With childhood obesity rates at an epic high in the U.S., there is a very good case for leading by example so our children don’t need to “diet” in the traditional sense of the word. If they grow up eating healthily and exercising regularly, there shouldn’t be a need for a program like WW in their lives … or even mine someday!

How about you? How young do you think is “too young” to diet? Do you think Ginnifer’s mom was wrong in having her join WW at such a young age?

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11 thoughts on “How Young is “Too Young” to Diet?

  1. It sounds like Ginnifer’s mom had the right attitude about weight loss and a healthy weight – however, I do think that weight loss that young should take place under the supervision of a doctor/medical professional, since it can be really dangerous for a growing kid to lose too much weight.

    Our pediatrician’s office actually offers a special program with classes and a series of special visits for overweight kids (I don’t know what the age cut-off is). I think that’s really cool b/c unlike WW, it’s covered by insurance.

  2. I read this article (my mom gets the magazine) and I had a lot of respect for her! She seemed, at least, to have a very healthy approach to her weight loss. I think it does get tricky, though, when you talk about weight loss for children. Obviously so many kids now are overweight (when I was a teacher, it was unreal to see what these kids are eating everyday and how they didn’t want to play or move around at recess), but I would be so scared to even bring it up with kids for fear of planting a little seed in their head that might lead to an ED. I think, if it were me (and mind you, I have no experience!), I would start with simply eating healthier meals at home and encouraging my child to get involved in an activity or sport that they love. If that didn’t help, then I would probably consult a physician. It’s just such a tricky line….

    Great post, Melissa!

  3. I’ve been thinking about this for the past day because I really don’t know what to think. My mom took me to a nutritionist/dietician/something or other when I was about nine years old and, to this day, it’s one of my most shame-filled memories. I hate going there and came away with the clear idea that it was entirely my fault that I was fat, that it was my fault that I didn’t eat less and want to exercise in my free time. I lived in fear of one of my classmates seeing me enter the building and was always ready to say I was visiting the eye doctor on the other side of the building.

    This is around the same time that my mother made me join the women’s only gym in town and told me to go there after school several days a week (this was about when I was 11). Instead, I’d go to the library for an hour and a half, read, and then go home.

    What I think is that you have to know your kid and you have to be honest with yourself, as well. My parents gave me all the tools to help me on to a healthy lifestyle path except a better understanding of how I shouldn’t feel guilty and they also didn’t lead by example.

    So I think this may have been good for this actress, but it should be looked at carefully and not seen as a blanket approach that’s okay for everyone.

    1. Candice–I’m so sorry you had such a bad experience at 9 yrs of age — it’s such a sensitive topic for sure … and it sounds like it depends on the approach, how the child is affected … and also, leading by example and taking away any potential for shame matters too.

      Definitely agree a blanket approach isn’t the way to go. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. That’s a tough one. At that age, you don’t know if a bit of extra weight is a stage or a problem. We have a friend who went through about 10 years (age 9-19) of getting fat, growing a few inches and getting thin, and then getting fat again. Today she’s a very tall thin woman.

    So far, my daughters are leggy and slim, and show no signs of having inherited my rather stubby body type. If that changes, I’m not sure what I’ll say or do. I think I’d take their lead, so yes, if one came to me and asked for help in losing weight — and she really needed it — I would try to help. I don’t think I’d suggest WW, but would perhaps simply try to get her more physically active and buy less junk food. I really don’t know for sure — just hoping it doesn’t happen.

  5. (Somehow I deleted your last comment on my blog – sorry…. but thank you for it! And Yes, I did pierce my gal’s ears at around 4 months – that’s the recommendation! Super easy. Have it done by pediatrician if possible!)
    I love Ginner Goodwin too by the way. Good for her!!!

  6. I am confused as to why Ginnifer thinks WW is not a diet, especially not a weight loss diet. It seems these days every undereating program calls itself “not a diet” because diet has rightfully become a four-letter word. I define a weight loss diet as one in which the person is undereating relative to her physical activity. The hallmark is that she feels hungry (in general, or for any particular food type or nutrient, such as carbs, protein, or fat) that the eating pattern doesn’t allow her to satisfy at the time she is hungry. In other words, the diet generates unmet hunger. Hunger is a sign of biological need (rarely is it psychological: that is given far too much attribution and PR these days! If a person is eating more in relation to a stressor, chances are it is because she has been undereating, and once stressed, the dam gave way and she could no longer maintain her unhealthy undereating program.) (Jean Antonello has articles about this at her site, http://www.naturally-thin.com, which I think are smart.)

    Ginnifer may well be thankful that, given our culture’s intense prejudice against girls and women who weigh an ounce more than a supermodel, or skinny child model, she no longer was considered overweight as a result of WW. But does that mean it is healthy to put a child on a diet?

    Undereating risks stunting a child’s growth for life, and can set her up for anorexia, bulimia, starving/bingeing (BED), or milder, yet chaotic, unhealthy and distressing undereating/overeating patterns.

    I would never, ever take a child to a dieting program, ie. WW. I also would not take her to a pediatrician to discuss her size/weight, or allow a pediatrician to discuss such topics with my daughter. MDs are only required to have a measly 3 hours of nutrition education in school. My pediatrician was so ignorant about normal female development and nutrition that he put me on a starvation diet when, at age 14, he observed that I had gained 10 lbs. but no height since the last checkup, and he didn’t realize that is normal for girls in puberty to gain weight w/o gaining height! (The weight goes to creating the normal, healthy female abdominal fat pad (the necessary fat pad below the navel and above the pubic bone), hips, bigger thighs, and breasts. Plus muscle as she becomes more athletic.

    He used a totally unscientific and inaccurate method to conclude how many “calories” I should eat, and had me eating only 1/3 of what I should have been (I was on two sports teams per day, exercising 4 hours per day, and therefore should have been eating 3,000+ per day, but he told me to only eat 1,000. This started me on what has become more than 30 years of chaotic undereating/overeating and searching for solutions. I went from a slender 120 to almost 3x that weight since that first crazy pediatrician’s diet.) Furthermore, it is standard medical practice nowadays for doctors to advise 1,000 to 1200 kcal diets, even though resting metabolic rate (RMR) requirements (RMR is the number of calories required per day for involuntary body functions such as heart function, respiration, and brain function) is 1350-1400 kcals/day for a sedentary girl teen or woman. That doesn’t include her calorie requirements for voluntary physical activity. So 1000-1200 is not enough even for keeping a person alive and functioning normally, long-term. Even anorexics typically eat 1,000 kcals/day. It isn’t enough to support normal function! Most MDs have absolutely no idea what they are doing regarding nutrition and weight. To this day, I get all kinds of conflicting and equally unhealthy medical advice from doctors, even after I tell them I have disordered eating that is exacerbated by weight loss advice/weight criticism. (The American Dietetic Association policy is that a person should be screened for EDs before being advised to lose weight, but this is not standard practice among doctors telling people of any size to lose weight–and EDs can exist in people of all sizes. Consider: if you’ve ever been told by a doctor to lose weight, did s/he give you a screening test for an eating disorder, first, such as the EAT-26 questionnaire?) This kind of unhealthy and uninformed “medical” advice is absolutely dangerous. After all, EDs can be fatal, and unhealthy eating stemming from disordered eating (such as undereating followed by cravings for high-calorie “make-up” eating foods, such as sweets and fats) can have long-term serious health consequences.

    The only reason I would take a child for help regarding her eating is if she were dieting, or had adopted an undereating/overeating or other disordered pattern, or was distressed about her weight or eating, to help her cope with those. I would *never, ever* take a child to anyone merely about her weight, because contrary to what the CDC and many misinformed doctors have been led to believe, weight is not in and of itself a health problem, except if she were distressed about it. If she had a health problem, such as unhealthy blood lipids or glucose tolerance, I would seek help from a qualified source for that issue, and work to resolve it with good nutrition and non-disordered, pleasurable physically active lifestyle, and meds if necessary, not dieting/undereating.

    For any of the above reasons, I would seek a dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in EDs (to reduce the risk of exposing my child to potentially unhealthy advice) and who uses a Health At Every Size approach of
    1) unconditional size acceptance,
    2) nutritious, enjoyable eating (most of the time) at regular meals and snacks according to hunger, satiety and tastes,
    3) physical activity for fun and to feel good, not for weight loss,
    4) letting one’s body size fall where it may, and
    5) education and support for dealing with and dispelling size bias in society.

    Sorry for the rant, and I realize you are a supporter of WW, but the thought of anyone going on WW, let alone a child, to me is very worrisome, and I believe, unhealthy. A slim person can be healthy or unhealthy. A slim person can be so by healthy means, or unhealthy means. Being slim does not necessarily mean being healthy. Too many girls and women are slim and of “normal” weight by very unhealthy means. It is far better to have someone eating in a normal calorie range (typically 1800+), being enjoyably physically active, and letting one’s size fall where it may than to maintain a slim size.

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